AUSTRALIA V FIJI
SATURDAY 21 SEPTEMBER 12:45
Sapporo Dome, Sapporo
FIJI V URUGUAY
WEDNESDAY 25 SEPTEMBER 13:15
Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, Iwate Prefecture, Kamaishi City
GEORGIA V FIJI
THURSDAY 03 OCTOBER 13:15
Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka Prefecture, Higashiosaka City
WALES V FIJI
WEDNESDAY 09 OCTOBER 17:45
Oita Stadium, Oita Prefecture
* Malaysian Time
The magic is finally beginning to happen for Fiji.
Their ‘group of death’ draw against Australia, Wales and then-hosts England meant that the writing was on the wall even before the 2015 World Cup started. They only managed to pick up one win, losing the other three and gaining just one bonus point.
They haven’t got a kind set of fixtures in Japan but in the run-up to RWC 2019, they’ve begun translating some of the World Cup Sevens winning style to their 15s. Look for this side to stun their opponents in broken play. If their discipline is kept, they have a good chance of gaining third spot and getting that all-important qualification for the next World Cup in 2023 if they can beat Georgia.
The match between the two sides could be vital in terms of whether this tournament can be measured as a success for the Flying Fijians or not.
Rugby’s offload kings! The way players like Viliame Mata, Leone Nakarawa and Semi Radradra manage to free their hands to get passes to team-mates is magician-like – and keeping those
attacks moving stretches opposition defences to breaking point. Forwards and backs can link seamlessly, punching holes and gliding into space, and the footwork of outside backs like Vereniki
Goneva and Josua Tuisova will be giving their opponents sleepless nights.
Their scrum has become a much more solid proposition in recent years given the work of specialist coach Alan Muir – remember those lengthy scrums against Australia in 2015? Another huge bonus for Fiji is their match schedule in the lead-up to the tournament. Not only will they have gained confidence from the drawn series against the Maori All Blacks but they were able to try out different
players during the Pacific Nations Cup and have a final hit-out against Tonga in Auckland before heading to Japan.
“With players coming from different clubs and environments, it takes a few games to get combinations working well together, so the six-match programme really suits us,” says coach John McKee.
Fitness levels used to be an issue for Fiji but they should be in peak condition in Japan given the work they have been putting in under Damian Marsh – that includes hard graft running up the huge sand dunes of Sigatoka. Discipline will be a concern, though. The two yellow cards towards the end of the first half of last year’s Test in Scotland resulted in a huge momentum swing in the hosts’ favour. Fiji need to be better at defending lineout drives and attacks on their own line legally.
The team’s other fault is sticking with their all-court game no matter what. Sometimes it’s better to take the contact than fling an offload or kick for territory than try to launch a counter from deep. Smarter game management and they’ll pile pressure on Australia and Wales.
The Coach: John McKee
He went straight into coaching when he stopped playing in 1990, for Melbourne’s Harlequin club. He took charge of the Victoria state team (1994-95) before getting his first full-time role at Eastwood in Sydney (1996-2000).
Then came several forwards coach roles overseas – Clermont, Connacht and Cornish Pirates. He returned to Australia in 2006 to take charge of the Central Coast Rays and got his first international experience with Pacific Islanders two years later. He became a technical adviser for Tonga, including at RWC 2011, and took charge of Fiji at the end of 2013.
“My philosophy on rugby is a running game, an attacking game, and that really suits the Pacific style,” says McKee, who also recognises his players thrive in a relaxed environment. “Our players work hard but if they’re having fun that’s when they play their best.”
This is Alan Muir’s second World Cup cycle as scrum coach. Neil Barnes focuses on the lineout and restart while fellow Chiefs coach Tabai Matson is back as attack coach after a RWC 2015 stint.